Surprising New Trends in Parents’ Views

Illinois PTA has highlighted Learning Heroes and their parent resources often, but their research work is also important. In the past two years, Learning Heroes noted that many parents are overestimating how well their child is doing in school and dug into some of the reasons behind that disconnect. The results of this year’s parent and teacher survey are in, and there are some surprising trends.

The Disconnect Remains

The survey shows that 90% of parents still believe their child is performing at or above grade level, essentially unchanged from past years. Yet results from the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) continue to show that only about 37% of students are at or above grade level. Similarly, only 39% of teachers report that their students are prepared to work at grade level at the beginning of the school year. The Learning Heroes survey also indicates an increasing number of parents, across all racial groups, believe that their child will be prepared for college and will get a four-year degree.

Report Cards Remain at the Heart of the Disconnect

Parents primarily rely on report card grades to indicate how their child is doing in school, but teacher state that those grades reflect effort more than achievement. Teachers also say that the best way to monitor how your child is doing in school is regular communication with your child’s teacher (i.e., not just in a parent-teacher conference). The survey also indicates that parents are much less likely to engage in or utilize such discussions with their child’s teacher in gauging how their child is doing.

Parent Beliefs are Shifting

The survey indicates that parents’ views about their child’s education is changing fairly rapidly in the past four years. In fact, some of the changes were so significant, that the researchers carefully studied the data to confirm that there was not a problem with the data or sampling. Among the shifts are:

  • Parents increasingly view their child’s school as excellent or very good (75% in 2016 to 84% in 2019).
  • Parents are much less worried about their child’s social, emotional, and academic performance, with significant decreases in concerns about happiness and emotional well-being (64% in 2018 to 60% in 2019), peer pressure (63% to 55%), gaining skills and knowledge to be ready for college (63% to 42%), and whether their child is on track academically (50% to 38%). These large, one-year changes are what led researchers to investigate the data for errors, confirming that these changes are in fact real.
  • Parents increasingly place the responsibility for their child’s in-school success on the child. In 2016, 37% of parents said their child was primarily responsible, 43% said they were as parents, and 16% said the teacher was responsible. In 2019, those percentages shifted to 59% saying the child was primarily responsible, 30% saying they as parents were responsible, and 9% saying the teacher was responsible for their child’s success at school.
  • Parents are reducing their engagement with their child’s school, with drops in the percentage of parents who attended a parent-teacher conference (77% in 2017 to 62% in 2019), communicated with the teacher outside of conferences (72% to 50%), and helped their child with homework (86% to74%).

For more information on the results of this year’s Learning Heroes survey, visit their research page, which includes the report, a presentation deck, and a recorded webinar as well as links to previous years’ reports. Be sure to check out Learning Heroes’ extensive parent resources as well.

What’s New with the Illinois School Report Card

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released its annual school report card last week. There is one significant change to the report card this year as more of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes into effect: site-specific expenditure reporting. That means that the school report card now shows the federal and state/local funding for each school in your school district. Illinois PTA worked closely with ISBE and other stakeholders over the past 18 months to ensure that the data were presented in an as easy to understand format as possible. Here’s what you need to know.


  1. Site-specific expenditure reporting shows how your district is spending its money at each school on a per student basis. Prior to this data becoming available on the report card, only a district’s total spending per pupil was available. With this data, administrators, school boards, families, and community members can see how a school district is allocating their funds among their schools.


  1. Not all of a district’s spending is included. The per pupil amounts being reported are regular and ongoing PreK-12 education expenses and are broken down further between federal funding and state/local funding. The latter does include items like donations from PTAs or grants from a school foundation. Also included are each school’s share of central district expenses (e.g., staff at the administrative building). Among the items not included are spending for  capital projects (e.g., building/renovating school buildings), debt service, fire prevention and safety spending, adult education services, and other spending not directly tied to educating students from age 3 to 12th grade.


  1. The data are presented in several different ways. The primary visual you will see on the school finances page (under the “District Environment” menu bar) of the report card is a bar chart with each school in the district represented by a vertical bar of per student spending ranked from lowest to highest. Below that bar chart is a data table with the information for each school in numerical form. Finally, a clickable link just above the bar chart will take you to a scatterplot where you can see per student expenditures graphed against several different variables such as the school’s summative designation, enrollment, English language learners, low-income students, or students with Individual education plans (IEPs).


  1. The data are a starting point for conversations. The fact that your child’s school is low or high in per pupil spending relative to the other schools in your district does not tell the entire story. Your district had the opportunity to add a narrative section to explain why the data look the way they do, so check to see if that information is included on the school report card page. Note that this being the first year with this data, many school districts may not have done this. Also consider what things could explain some of the differences, such as school population, high school vs. elementary school, a bilingual education program at a specific school, or a concentration of students from low-income families or with special needs. Also consider how students are performing (see the scatterplot chart with schools’ summative designations)—a school with low cost per student but high student achievement is a cause for celebrating their success, not complaining that the district isn’t spending enough there. ISBE has some information sheets that can help you dig into the data on site-based expenditure reporting (Overview and Exploring the Visualizations, which has some questions to consider as you explore the data). Use the data to have conversations at your PTA meetings or with your school’s principal or district’s superintendent and school board.


The new site-based expenditure reporting data has the potential to spark some powerful conversations in your school district about student success, equity, and overall school funding. PTA does its best work when we advocate for all children, and this year’s school report card provides your PTA with the opportunity to have deep, meaningful conversations with your school district that can have a more profound effect on your child’s education than almost any other activity your PTA could pursue.


Other Changes

There are a few other changes to the state report card:

  • Test results for the elementary and middle school grades are now from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), and data from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment have been moved to the “Retired Tests” section.
  • A growth measurement determined from the IAR has been added for elementary and middle schools. This data illustrates how students have improved year over year compared to their peers who had the same IAR score in math or English. It is a measure of how much students have improved, regardless of whether they are meeting the Illinois Learning Standard or not. You can find out more from this ISBE information sheet.
  • New subgroups have been added:
    • Students with disabilities
    • Students categorized as Migrant
    • Students from Military Families
    • Students categorized as Youth in Care
    • Students categorized as Homeless (High school graduation rate only)
  • The “5 Essentials Survey” has been replaced with the “School Climate Survey” and displays information from the one of three ISBE-approved climate surveys the school has used.
  • Data from the Illinois Science Assessment has been added for grades 5 and 8 and high school biology.

The State We’re In 2019

Three years ago, Advance Illinois released a report summarizing the current state of education in Illinois. That report, using data and maps to show just how widespread the challenges in funding, poverty, and achievement were across the state, was a crucial factor in the General Assembly passing the new Evidence-Based Funding model the following year. Advance Illinois has now released a follow-up report looking at how things have changed over the last two years.

Like the previous report, The State We’re In 2019 uses data from school districts and mapping to illustrate where Illinois schools are today. A few key points from the report are:

  • Access to early childhood education for low-income students continues to be far short of what is needed
  • Kindergarten readiness is now being measured, and the majority of students enter kindergarten are not fully prepared in all three developmental areas. While white students are generally better prepared than their peers from low-income households or families of color, less than one-third of white students across the state are fully prepared for kindergarten.
  • Illinois student growth (improvement in proficiency) is among the leaders in the nation (sixth for math and eighth for reading between grades 3 and 8), but actual proficiency continues to lag the national average. Put another way, while Illinois is doing well at improving student performance, this growth is not fast enough nor far-reaching enough to overcome the early education deficits to prepare students for college and careers.
  • Illinois ranks in the bottom 10 states for student access to school counselors. Access to counselors can be critical in preparing students for college and careers.
  • More Illinois students are entering and completing college, but equity gaps persist.
  • The Evidence-Based Funding model is working to direct more funding to those schools furthest from adequate funding, but the majority of districts are still well below 90% of adequacy.

You can download the report from Advance Illinois and check out the interactive maps to show how various measures have changed for each school district, including the ability to focus on a particular district’s performance.

Help Your Child Spring Ahead

Illinois PTA has often highlighted the resourcesand researchdone by Learning Heroes. As the annual state assessment, now known as the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), approaches, Learning Heroes has released a new resource for families called Spring Ahead.

Spring Ahead provides tools and information to help families support their child as they get ready for the annual state assessment. Among the resources are:

There is also a send-home PDF flyer in both English and Spanishthat summarizes the Spring Ahead information and directs families to the Learning Heroes website. Help your child Spring Aheadby visiting the site today.